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Monday, 13 December 2010

Mad Max (George Miller, 1979)

Mad Max is a cult road movie fatally crippled by budget and imagination. Set in the near-future, the viewer is told that society is on the verge of collapse, as oil shortages turn biker gangs into killers as legal and judicial systems crumble.

For all its potential, Mad Max seldom achieves its targets. As an exploitation film it's not particularly exploitative, as an action movie it's dull as dirt. It sows the seeds of a fascinating story about the breakdown of society, and while it hits a beat now and then, long stretches are as dull and grey as the film's endless motorways.

Made on a shoestring budget, it has little to recommend it from a visual standpoint. A couple of practical stunts impress, in particular a slow-motion bike crash which understandably created urban myths about the death of the stuntman. And Australia itself is a reliably huge and gorgeous stage to set the action.

Mad Max hits its highest point in the last five minutes, as Max, finally mad, sadistically takes down the last members of the gang that killed his family. But just as it feels like the film proper is finally starting, it's all over. The sequels created their own radical mythology, but as part of a trilogy the first film, under-developed and unrealised, is not what it should have, nor could have been.